Homestead was supposed to be the race that not only decided a razor-thin Chase battle, but a Top-35 trio ready to pull out all the stops to ensure a “locked-in” spot for 2008.
Now, it seems as if both competitions will turn out to be anti-climactic. With an 86-point lead, Jimmie Johnson needs merely a mid-pack finish to clinch his second straight title; along those same lines, Dave Blaney and the No. 22 may merely need to come home in one piece to get the job done. With the BDR Camry leading the Wood Brothers No. 21 for the final locked-in spot for 2008, in addition to Johnson’s dominance over the rest of the Chase contenders in the past month.
Phoenix was a bad week for each of the drivers within range of moving in or falling out of the Top 35, but while all of the bubble contenders finished worse than 25th, it was enough for one driver to ensure a starting spot for the first five races of next season.
To see who’s locked in, who’s locked out, and who may have a shot to crack the Top 35 heading to Homestead, check out this week’s edition of the Bubble Breakdown:
An anti-climatic finish?
Forget the whole race-within-a-race intangible that the Top-35 battle was supposed to bring next week. As the season winds down in the same state it started in nine months ago, Blaney all but has the final spot clinched with one race remaining. A 31st-place finish for the No. 22 would have been cause for concern with a 127-point advantage over Bill Elliott coming into the event, but the veteran couldn’t capitalize, finishing 34th and handing back the top spot over to Blaney.
Above these two drivers, the top-34 spots are now officially locked up, leaving little to look forward to as far as the bubble positions are concerned.
Petty locked in
You have to give major props to Petty and the entire No. 45 team for never wavering during a stretch that brought the historic team dangerously close to falling out of the Top 35. After returning from TNT, the team went through a five-week period when Petty cracked the top 25 just twice and finished outside the top 35 twice, Petty responded with finishes of 28th, 18th, 21st and 13th over the next four weeks. The run wasn’t enough to shake Blaney, though; he is still just 29 points back, but that’s enough to give the No. 45 team an advantage at the start of next season.
Who’s Locked In
Who’s Locked Out
What will Penske do?
The hiring of Sam Hornish Jr. sparked questions this week as to what Roger Penske will do with the owner points of the No. 2 car. Since Kurt Busch is a past champion, he has a provisional which he could use should he need to at any point in the first five races of next year. Because of that leverage, Penske may choose to move the owner points of the No. 2 over to Hornish to ensure that the rookie driver can start the first five races of 2008.
Top-Three Finishing Toyotas
Vickers (No. 83) — Finished 21st
Blaney (No. 22) — Finished 31st (lone Toyota in Top 35)
Johnny Benson (No. 36) — Finished 36th
Breaking Down the Bubble
|Pos||Owner||Car #||Driver||Points||Points +/- of 35th Place|
|31||Haas CNC Racing||66||Jeremy Mayfield||2,890||+166|
|32||Robert Yates Racing||38||David Gilliland||2,857||+133|
|33||Haas CNC Racing||70||Johnny Sauter||2,854||+130|
|34||Petty Enterprises||45||Kyle Petty||2,753||+29|
|35||Bill Davis Racing||22||Dave Blaney||2,724||0|
|36||Wood Brothers||21||Ken Schrader/Bill Elliott||2,588||-136|
|37||Evernham Motorsports||10||Scott Riggs||2,454||-270|
|38||Team Red Bull||83||Brian Vickers||2,314||-410|
|39||Michael Waltrip Racing||00||David Reutimann||2,199||-525|
|40||Michael Waltrip Racing||55||Michael Waltrip||1,815||-909|
|41||Michael Waltrip Racing||44||Dale Jarrett||1,766||-958|
|42||Furniture Row Motorsports||78||Joe Nemechek||1,629||-1,095|
|43||Team Red Bull||84||AJ Allmendinger||1,570||-1,154|
|44||Bill Davis Racing||36||Johnny Benson||1,534||-1,190|
|45||Morgan-McClure Motorsports||4||Ward Burton||1,512||-1,212|
|46||BAM Racing||49||John Andretti||1,474||-1,250|